There have been endless and unresolved debates on the ethnic
identity of the Xiongnu. Some say they were Turkic, some others
claim they were of Mongol/Manchu origin. The latest trend seems to
be that their language was Proto-Turkish, which brings up the
conclusion that they were a band of Asiatic folks governed by a
proto-Turkish speaking people or peoples. Since it's still a blurred
area, nothing can be said with any great certainty yet.
The first people to name themselves and their counterparts as
Türk were the Gök Türks (gök means blue but also sky, or in more
abstract sense, heavens). They appeared in the 6th century AD and
managed to unite all the Turkish-speaking peoples in one
confederation. The two brothers who succeeded in achieving this were
İstemi and Bumin. Their empire was divided into two major provinces
with one brother in power in each. They continued their line
independently. The eastern faction pressed China while the western
one expanded towards Sogdiana and Chorasmia.
Less than two centuries later, both factions collapsed, the eastern
one falling under Chinese domination.
About half a century later, a descendant of the crown dynasty
managed to organise a successful revolt against the Chinese rule,
reunited the tribes with diplomacy or war and re-established the
state. He was given the names İl Teriş (one who "gathered" the
country) and Kutlug (something along the lines of "sacred,
blessed"). He was followed by his equally successful brother Kapagan.
Kutlug's sons, Bilge and Kül Tegin overthrew Kapagan's weak son.
Bilge was pronounced the "Kagan" and the younger brother Kül Tegin
became the commander of the armies.
The two have been given the credit of starting the process of
civilization amongst the Turks. Unfortunately, no complete city has
survived from their day. However, Bilge ordered for his brother,
himself and their wise chamberlain Tonyukuk, monumental tombstones
with so-called Runic scripture (so-called because of the
resemblance, it's actually written in a phonetical Turkic alphabet),
carved in Turkish and Chinese (iirc). He tells about not only
history and warfare but also the social structure and maybe an early
Eventually, the state experienced the east/west factional
division again. In 751 (iirc), an Islamic (Emevi) army allied with
the Western Gök Türks against the Chinese in the Battle of Talas,
and they won. This was the first serious contact between Turks and
The Eastern Faction subsequently collapsed following a coup
d'etat by several tribes under the lead of the Uighurs. They
overthrew the Kagan and proclaimed their own kagan: Kutlug Bilge Kül
(with an interesting choice of names). The Uighurs adopted Bhuddism
and built cities, Balasagun being the capitol. They allied with the
Chinese Tang dynasty with a view to building an empire in Asia once
again. They adapted the Sogdian alphabet to their dialect of
Turkish, which remained the script for the writen form of their
language until the Arabic was adopted in the eleventh century. It
was taught at the
Ottoman court until Bayezid II (who reigned in 1481-1512). He
was the last person of note to learn it. Still, it's taught today in
universities teaching Turkology or Historical Turkish Literature.
Uighur civilization dissolved and was overthrown by several
Turkic tribes, who would never be able to reach the level of their
ancestors' glory in the homeland. A tribe who were part of the
Uighur empire migrated southwest under Kara Han and established a
new state there. Satuk Bugra became the first ever Turkish ruler to
adopt Islam and added Abdulkerim to his name. what is now
Afghanistan, another Turk dynasty, the Ghaznevis,
founded the second Islamic Turk state. The legendary Persian poet
Firdewsi was at the court of Mahmud Ghaznevi.
Another wave of Turks under Dokak, from the Qınıq clan of Oghuz,
migrated to Khorasan and became subjects of the Ghaznevi. Soon
later, they revolted under the brothers Çağrı and Tuğrul to build
the Selçuk/Seljuq sultanate.